By G. Tansella and A. Wicks (A.A.I.)
The Beretta Olimpia semiautomatic carbine series is still widespread in the civilian arena after more than half a century since their appearance. This fact prompted us to investigate the reasons for this longevity and with good results, in some respects, unexpected.
The Beretta Olimpia, produced for about a decade since the 1950s, are .22 LR calibre rifles that are remarkably similar in design to the German Walther designed before the Second World War. According to the instruction manual for these weapons, they were principally designed for target shooting. However, looking back, we can safely say that in those years these weapons were used for both recreational and military purposes. This is proved by the fact that the Olimpias were used for training by various parts of the armed forces, for example, the Carabinieri. These weapons, when compared to the firearms used by the military at that time, are of a similar size and weight; such as the Carcano 91/38 Cavalry Model. They used removable magazines of various capacities, and were able to operate either in single shot or semiautomatic mode. This allowed the soldiers to perform rapid-fire exercises, for which they used the action of the MAB cal. 9mm M38. The materials used are classical of the period with the generous use of steel and beech wood and finished with blueing and some protective oil. The style of the design retains some typical traits of hunting weapons, prompting us to consider the fact that it may have been designed specifically for shooting in the countryside, where stability and lightness are requirements that force one to make a compromise.
In general, the weapon has a length of about 1,090 mm and a weighs approx. 3.75 kg. The barrel is 600 mm long; cylindrical in shape with a diameter of 20 mm. The rifling has been machined into six right hand grooves and one-hundredth of a millimetre deep, with a twist rate of 1 in 15 3/4 inches (1 in 40mm). The firing chamber, dimensionally built to accommodate the .22 LR ammunition; it is 19 mm in length and has a slightly conical profile. It starts with a 5.88 mm diameter at the base down to 5.7 mm in the area of the shoulder of the bullet. The barrel has a width between the hills of the rifling of about 5.4 mm. The receiver contains the magazine with the appropriate command-release button and the trigger mechanism, which is externally adjustable by using a screwdriver. It was not that easy in early models to adjust the pull of the trigger by simply using a screwdriver, but when they began to produce the monolithic (made from a single solid block) trigger guards, a hole was drilled into the trigger guard in order to facilitate being able to adjust the pull of the trigger at will.
How It Works
The breech of the barrel is locked into the receiver that contains the trigger mechanism as well as the magazine and loading platform. The upper section hosts the bolt’s chamber. The two sections are coupled by two rigid tenons front and one, the rear, activated by the extension of the recoil spring. The bolt itself is large with a semi-circular frontal section and is simply slid forwards: the recoil spring pushes against the breech ensuring complete closure. In this way, the weapon is operating in semiautomatic mode. However, with a combined simple and intelligent expedient by changing the locking system, and switching from the semiautomatic mode to single shot mode, a milling that affects the entire curved surface allows the bolt to rotate by sliding around its axis and is inserted into a special recess in the bolt chamber that then makes it a simple method of mechanical closure. Taking advantage of the single shot firing mode, as well as increasing the possibility to concentrate on the shots; one can make better use of the expelled gas to improve its ballistic performance. It should be remembered that even though the Walther-type bolt works as a so-called "straight-pull," its use replicates those rifles with swivel-sliding bolt, which benefits those training to use the classic "bolt -action" rifles. The change in firing mode results in a change of the point of impact of the bullets. However, if the object of the exercise is not to simply achieve highest possible accuracy – which would require re-zeroing the sights – it is possible none the less to compensate with the naked eye when engaging a target/enemy.
The basic version of the Olimpia mounted the classic iron sights consisting of adjustable rear sights and interchangeable front sights. The factory-mounted front sight were 2.5 mm wide but could be substituted by two other versions of either 1.5 mm or 2.0 mm in width. Elevation could be changed by using a vertically installed screw within the sights themselves. Drift could be adjusted by altering the depth of two opposing screws; again with the rear sight itself. The profile of the rear sight is semi-circular when viewed while aiming, whereas the front sights are rectangular in shape. In all models, the breech area was rather large and was made by a machining process to accommodate a custom made mount. Attached by one or two large screws depending on the model of the weapon, this was clearly suitable for mounting telescopic sights. Another way to improve the precision shooting of the Olimpia was provided for the mounting on the rear of the receiver competition type adjustable aperture sights attached to the dovetail by a locking clamp.
In this case, the classical foresight was replaced by a competition ring sight (essentially a circle inside the foresight guard). Note that the weapon in the photograph has a particular mount for the competition aperture sight. This modification was made by a skilled gunsmith based on the specifications request of the owner. The latter did not want to in any way affect/damage the original wooden stock, by having to fix the mount in the customary manner and an original mechanical solution was chosen to satisfy the client’s desire. A lever was used in combination with the dovetail mount for quick attachment and release of the competition sights.
It is a single piece of solid beech 800 mm long. Its shape can clearly be seen to derive from the typical stocks used on hunting rifles. The shape and width of the stock allow for comfortable shouldering and has a semi-pistol shape grip with hand-made checkering that further favoured a firm grip even in wet or sweaty conditions – a design that was essentially the norm in that era. The stock continues enveloping the action and receiver and goes on thinning out with grooves for ease of use for the supporting hand. The stock is equipped with sling loops: the rear one is screwed firmly in place on the stock in a classical manner while the front one is adjustable as it fits into a suitable encased metal slide, with various points of fixture using a screw. It has a classic oil finish to the wood and the butt plate is press-printed burnished steel. Over the years the design of the stocks were modified and one can find some beautiful rifles with cheek pieces and Monte Carlo type stocks, some even with a flat base instead of the semi-pistol grip.
Firing Test and Conclusions
The shooting trial was divided into two sessions. The first was designed to assess the capability and durability of a weapon that had been used for training purposes for over 50 years and at least 30 years on an almost daily basis. The second objective was to test it for accuracy using the accessories for competition/target shooting at the beginning of the rifle’s inception. The weapon used for training purposes by the shooting range belonged to the first series produced, identical to the one photographed. It had the conventional iron sights and was in reasonable mechanical condition apart from it being dirty – which showed clear signs of intense and long term use. One can be forgiven for thinking the condition of the training rifle was not ideal, especially in terms of the cleaning of the working parts and the barrel. However, one must bear in mind that the manufacturer's manual states that the rifle should be cleaned every 200/300 shots and this number is very quickly achieved easily in the space of an hour when training newcomers to the sport of shooting at the firing range. Clearly, we are talking about a weapon that bears little resemblance to a new one just taken off the shelf. Nevertheless, it is after several hundred thousands of rounds fired a good and “honest” weapon. Whilst preparing to shoot, we could appreciate the still almost perfect balance of the rifle and how ergonomic it is: even the trigger pull surprised us for its long but smooth action with a noticeable pressure point to assist in a good crisp shot. It was not possible to zero the sights as we did not want to alter them as they were sighted for training purposes by the range master. The five shot groups attained by the rifle considering its age and its intense use were officially certified by the management of the shooting range. The grouping was certainly in line with the manufacturer’s declaration and, once again, considering its age and use as well as the not optimal state of cleanliness not to mention that we used the cheap ammunition used for training novices, the five shot grouping at 50 m (about 55 yards) was 25 mm (about 1 inch).
The rifle’s user manual states that test shooting at the factory of every rifle manufactured produced groups of about 19mm (3/4 inch) at 50m (about 55 yards) when placed on a rest. We believe our wider grouping was due to the factors mentioned above as well as the fact that we fired in semiautomatic mode as opposed to single shot. The other potential reason/excuse is that the foresight covered our small target almost completely at the 50 m range. We used our personal rifle with competition sights with the target placed at 100m (about 110 yards) and the grouping was the same as at the 50 m range – bearing in mind we used identical ammunition and shooting range. We had to compensate by viewing the initial points of impact as the sights could not be raised enough to compensate for the ammunition used at that range. There is no doubt that both rifles would have obtained even tighter groupings had we used competition grade ammunition, however, our aim was to show what a rifle can do, both old and new with easily obtainable cheap ammunition. We can, therefore, state that we are very satisfied with the performance of the rifles. This is especially the case of the rifle we used that is solely dedicated to training, combined with its age and “wear and tear,” and it is a worthy workhorse of the training facilities of the shooting ranges. One aspect, in particular, leads us to be optimistic regarding its continued operational life: the capability to fire in semiautomatic mode, using the weapon’s original ten-round magazine still allows one to fire accurately and rapidly, which is becoming more “fashionable” in certain sporting events than fifty years ago when the rifle was first produced. An excellent point is that it will fire any type of ammunition accurately. In our eyes the Beretta Olimpia can justifiably be considered an immortal "trainer.”
Manufacturer: Fabbrica D’Armi P. Beretta (Gardone V.T.)
Special features: No longer in production
Type: Rifle for training purposes
Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
Total length: 1,090 mm
Total weight: 3.75 Kg
Barrel: Length 600mm; 6 right hand grooves with a 1 in 40mm twist rate (1 in 15 3/4 inches)
Operation: A single row prismatic magazine; sliding bolt with a “Walther” type closure
Trigger: The trigger pull can be altered by simply using a screwdriver
Safety: The trigger is mechanically locked by a lever
Sights: classic iron sights; predisposition for mounting telescopic sights; predisposition to mount a competition aperture sight. Ring guard to protect the foresights
Stock: Beech wood.
Finish: Metal parts are blued and are non-reflective; the milled base of the sights; the wood is treated with oil.
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